A Melbourne woman has been awarded more than $1 million in compensation for sexual abuse she suffered at an ultra-orthodox Jewish school.
The Supreme Court heard the 28-year-old was sexually abused between 2003 and 2006 by Malka Leifer, who was the headmistress at the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick.
The court heard the woman was abused at school, on camp and at Ms Leifer’s home.
Justice Jack Rush said the victim had suffered fear, uncertainty and major lifelong mental injury including self-harm and awarded her $1.27 million in damages.
The school arranged for Ms Leifer to be flown out of Australia in 2008, within hours of learning of allegations made by the victim and at least eight other girls, the court heard.
Ms Leifer is currently in Israel awaiting extradition, and it is understood she could face dozens of charges of indecent assault and rape if she ever returns to Melbourne.
She has been under house arrest in Israel since last September, but nearly a year later there still has not been an initial hearing on her extradition petition.
Her lawyers successfully argued in a Jerusalem court in July for another delay to her case, claiming she was suffering from “psychosis and stress”.
Justice Rush said the victim’s home life and schooling was exceptionally rigid and that she was effectively cut off from mainstream Australian life.
“In accordance with the philosophies and practices of the Adass community, the plaintiff (and her siblings) was brought up in a home with no access to television, radio, internet, magazines or newspapers, not even a sales catalogue entered the home,” Justice Rush said in his finding.
“Children did not grow up knowing of world events; children were completely isolated from anything ‘beyond the community you were within’.”
Justice Rush said the fact the abuse occurred under the guise of Jewish education by headmistress made the breach of trust monstrous.
He said Leifer’s conduct as headmistress went unchecked by the school.
“She would single out girls and take them off for private chats, they would be pulled out of lessons,” Justice Rush found.
“She would take children from time to time to her own house, which a senior teacher at the school knew was occurring and seemingly never questioned the conduct because of Leifer’s standing in the Adass community.
“On school camps, she could effectively disappear with students for hours at a time.”